I pitched to my first venture capitalist at the age of 17. At the time I had no idea what I was doing and to a certain extent I would argue that I'm still learning plenty today, 4 years later.
Like many startups, to get our company off the ground, we had to find and solicit VC investors to help continue our company's growth. While my co-founder and I started by approaching angel investors and accelerator programs, the time and place came when we needed larger sums of capital to scale the business to the size we wanted it to be.
Since 2013, we've raised $1.8 million to date. While I'm certainly not claiming to be an expert on raising VC funds based on only two rounds of fundraising, my co-founder and I have learned plenty to advise other young entrepreneurs and startups of what not to do.
My hope is that my experience and tips can help to kick-start to your fundraising process. There are certainly dozens of other items to consider, so please make sure to get other perspectives as well.
As a starting point here are my four suggestions for what not to do as a first-time entrepreneur approaching a VC for funding:
Try to do it solo. Even with a great team, running the VC gauntlet is a challenge. So get a great team. Surround yourself with advisors who know you and know your market and product. Former CEOs and other founders can offer great insight and advice. So can other VCs--as long as you don't intend to ask them for funding. Before you pitch a VC, ask your team for personalized advice about each ask.
Ask for money right away. Asking too early is a common mistake for first time entrepreneurs during meetings with VCs. At some point, you'll obviously have to put together an ask and be clear and rational about how much money you'll need. But early on, learn. Network and ask for advice.
"Wing it." You may think you know everything about your business, but you probably don't until your first VC pitch. Going in, most first-timers don't know enough about their competitors, defensibility, how to scale the business, cost to acquire a customer, how much money you will need, what that money will be used for, and how long it will last you (12-18 months for an early stage raise here is a good runway).
So practice. Ask others who have received VC funding to ask you questions. Ask your board members and mentors too. Make sure they ask plenty of questions--even crazy ones.
Don't take the first offer that comes in. True, your objective is to raise funds. But don't let that pressure you into taking an initial offer.
Instead, use your first term sheet. Bring it to your other top VC choices. This can drive up the valuation of your company, position you as an experienced deal-maker and help others see value they may not have seen before. You may get a better deal. Remember, the real goal isn't just money--it's the right money at the right deal.
Like most of these suggestions, seek advice. There is a right way to do this that won't offend the VC firm that offered first. But when you can--and you can--it is important to get a variety of market valuations and offers.
Following these tips won't get you funded. But it should increase your odds and give you the confidence of a more seasoned professional. Armed with a great product, solid research and tons of advice, confidence can go a long way.